TV Binge: The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)

The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)

Creator: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Amelia Eve, T’Nia Miller, Rahul Kohli, Tahirah Sharif, Amelie Bea Smith, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Henry Thomas, Carla Gugino, Alex Essoe, Roby Attal, Kate Siegel, Katie Parker, Martn McCreadie

After an au pair’s tragic death, Henry hires a young American nanny to care for his orphaned niece and nephew who reside at Bly Manor with the chef Owen, groundskeeper Jamie and housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. – IMDB

After the success of The Haunting of Hill House (review), Mike Flanagan helms his next mini- series with another haunted house story called The Haunting of Bly Manor. The Haunting of Bly Manor takes some of the execution style of Hill House but is essentially its own story. After the Hill House experience, its hard to go into this one with a little more alertness and always on the lookout for whats hidden in the background (at least for us, it had that effect for at least a few episodes). Its unfair to compare the two even if there are a similar cast returning from Hill House in mostly supporting roles and being helmed by Flanagan as a creator but less this time as director. In fact, Bly Manor is a different beast in itself with Bly Manor being a new haunted house that comes to life with new characters and backstories and some new ghosts to discover which makes Bly Manor a creepily fun time and its has children so add in a little of the unsettling creepy children element.

Using the same execution of breaking down the episodes to discover the backstory of each of the characters on the past and present is a clever way to do this. In some ways, it gives it this feeling of peeling layers of an onion before every piece fits together and one twist/ secret gets revealed after the next while also getting to know each of the characters more to give them greater connection. Other than that Flanagan takes on the main role of writing which is what gives this piece a lot of style and atmosphere. He only takes the director’s seat for the first episode which sets off the story in a great direction in terms of setting up the proper atmosphere however, even in the hands of other directors, the TV series does still manage to keep a certain atmosphere that is always rather unsettling and creepy but in this one, its definitely more about the mystery and suspense built from what is actually happening.

With that said, the characters are the true star as each of their story comes to life. Victoria Pedretti plays a great role as the American au pair Dani who brings on some change to Bly Manor as she tries to dig into what is causing those abnormal things to happen whether with the children or the inexplicable things she sees or experiences. At the same time, the baggage she carries does brings on a few twists as well. The cook Owen (Rahul Kohli) is also a really fun character especially with some hilarious puns like Al-Cohol You Later (one that we have a lot of fun right now saying randomly). One of the best characters and possibly the one with one of the best episode is for the housekeeper Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller) who delivers a hell of a performance. Not to mention the kids deliver some great performances by Amelie Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Flora and Miles respectively. Then you have some comeback roles with one or two episodes as some decent characters with Henry Thomas as the uncle, Carla Gugino who is the narrator and Kate Siegel as a key character to the past of Bly Manor to just name a few. There’s a whole lore of how the ghosts and spirits work that becomes a very nice twist.

Bly Manor brings its own setting by itself. The grounds and the manor itself all comes to life with all the stories that slowly comes to surface. The cast brings quite a lot to the story just like the first one as they all have a great deal of depth and its never solely a ghost story but much more than that which is what makes The Haunting of Bly Manor so good. Its something of a love, revenge, family, drama with supernatural elements. There’s some heartwarming moments and some comedy and then there’s a lot of creepiness and fantastic eerie atmosphere at times that’s pretty well balances. Its the not the same as Hill House but different in an equally good way.

Double Feature: #Alive (2020) & The Bridge Curse (女鬼橋, 2020)

Next up in the Halloween movie marathon is an Asian film double feature with South Korean Netflix zombie film, #Alive paired with Taiwanese horror film, The Bridge Curse, both on Netflix fittingly for this themed month.

Let’s check it out!

#Alive (2020)

#

Director (and co-writer): Il Cho

Cast: Ah-In Yoo, Shin-Hye Park, Bae-soo Jeon, Hyun-Wook Lee

The rapid spread of an unknown infection has left an entire city in ungovernable chaos, but one survivor remains alive in isolation. It is his story. – IMDB

There’s no doubt that there is no shortage of zombie movies out there. I mean, we’ve covered a ton of them here but after the success of Train to Busan, its hard to write-off what South Korean cinema has to offer. #Alive is a little different. In many ways, its about survival during the zombie apocalypse (which movie isn’t) but its more than that as its about two characters self-quarantined during this post-apocalypse. As much as there’s zombies, its about a guy and a girl both in their own apartments in the same complex surviving in their own way. Its a different angle because its also very character-oriented. #Alive is structured in a good progression from a focus on the guy and his survival to realizing he isn’t “alone” and then reuniting the characters to survival together. Its a little far-fetched in some scenes when they reunite and plays upon how lucky they are to beat a ton of zombies but it does work pretty well in terms of the tension and atmosphere.

In reality, there is where #Alive stands out and that’s the two characters. In reality, the zombies are a definite threat but they are less scary than the desperate situation that the two characters are caught in. With their wits and their own know-hows, they end up being quite a team of helping each other out and each having their own story and unknowingly saving each other in some subtle moments that clues in on their individual characters that the other doesn’t learn about. Zombie movies at this point are the best when they are entertaining to watch which #Alive is absolutely there. Sure, it doesn’t give anything new with the zombies or the post-apocalypse situation and maybe even the characters but the angle and the premise or making it more character-oriented and a lonely quarantine probably lands even better because its released during the current landscape in our own reality and at least made me question my own preparedness at home for whatever survival needs that I might be lacking.

The Bridge Curse (2020)

Director: Lester Hsi

Cast: JC Lin, Vera Yen, Summer Meng, Ning Chang, Ruby Zhan, Yi-hung Hsieh, Cheng Ko

University students, planning a bravery initiation test for their fellow classmates, choose a campus bridge rumored to be haunted by a vengeful female ghost. – IMDB

I’ve always been pretty skeptical about Chinese horror movies in general. As much as they try, it all turns out to be fairly generic and full of horror tropes. With that said, I’ve only started going through some horror stuff sporadically from Taiwan (prior it was mostly Hong Kong horror) and The Bridge Curse is one of those that recently landed on Netflix. The Bridge Curse has some strong vibes of Dreadout, the game and not the film adaptation, which was decent enough. Actually there are some scenes that almost replicate that of one or two cutscenes from the game. The Bridge Curse plays on a lore about a female ghost haunting a bridge where at midnight, the steps leading away from the bridge will mysteriously have one extra step and if the person walking the steps counts to the extra step and turns around then they will see the ghost and be haunted. The story itself is fairly generic and it does have some creepy moments but most of it is rather expected. Where it does fall flat is that the surprise in the finale is a bit lackluster and it has to do a lot with the execution. In some ways, it may have benefited from being either a full found footage film instead of bouncing back and forth between that and the normal film structure. It might actually have worked better as the former.

The Bridge Curse’s structure is a parallel of bouncing between the past where the university students perform this initiation set-up/demonstration for their juniors and the story progresses at the same time as the present where a reporter is on location investigating the details of it to get to the bottom of this Bridge Curse and whether there was something more to the case. The structure is pretty good as it pairs up the two parts from one side reaching a certain room and then bouncing back to the present being in that room. The pieces of clues that she finds and how she connects it together also works well logically.

As much as that, the university students has their own little issues and some of the parts and the dialogue is not scripted that good, making these characters a little empty as well. At the same time, the scares are all fairly predictable even if some of the execution did turn out a little creepy although the ghost reveal did happen a little too early and the scares at times happened a little too frequent which made it lose its effectiveness by the end.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen these two Asian horror films?

Double Feature: The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020) & Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

After our single feature yesterday, we’re back to the the next double feature! This time we’re looking at a pair of horror sequels. The first is Netflix Original film The Babysitter’s sequel: The Babysitter: Killer Queen and Unfriended (aka when I saw it it was called Cybernatural)’s sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web. Let’s check it out!

The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020)

Director: McG

Cast: Judah Lewis, Samara Weaving, Jenna Ortega, Emily Alyn Lind, Andrew Bachelor, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Hana Mae Lee, Ken Marino, Leslie Bibb, Chris Wylde

Two years after Cole survived a satanic blood cult, he’s living another nightmare: high school. And the demons from his past? Still making his life hell. – IMDB

The sequel of The Babysitter (review) is something of a disappointing follow-up. In some ways, it has a bit of the rinse and repeat formula where its also about performing a satanic blood cult and it brings back the ghosts of Cole’s past in the form of the cast from the first film. On one hand, the original cast brings in a lot of callbacks from the first one whether its their personality or what happens to them that adds a lot of fun moments for fans of the first film. I’m not quite sure it lands as well for someone watching this without the first film (although I’m not sure who goes into sequel without watching the first one especially since The Babysitter is also a Netflix Original film so its all the same platform). With that said, the other side is the partnering with an unlikely ally which is the first twist fairly early in the movie that brings in the second group there to perform this ritual and also targeting Cole. With that said, Cole has a spontaneous partner in the new girl in school, Phoebe (Jenny Ortega) which links back to Samara Weaving’s character, Bee which also takes on a parallel storyline.

If anything, Killer Queen is disappointing because it loses its simplicity of the first film being as straightforward and scripted better in its originality of the characters and the babysitter running a cult which has some comedy and some more abrupt moments. This one runs on a lot of tangents and a bigger setting. The setting itself does it a lot of favors and the original cast also is very enjoyable to watch as well as Jenny Ortega’s character is a standout as well. But then, they bring in the parents which is meant to be rather funny but a lot of times runs on fumes at times and falls short of the comedy that it should land. Perhaps the beginning it was a lot more entertaining than by the time it reaches the end. The end is redeemed when it takes this different twist which was a little obvious by the end but gives a little redemption to the characters.

Overall, its still a little disappointing. Its not exactly bad as it just loses the horror comedy elements by the end. Its a little disjointed and tries to add too many moving parts than the story actually needs. It falls short in a few elements. Its a little sad since I was really hoping to like this one but by the middle, it just got a little frustrating to watch, mostly with the new cast being a little overacting and the characters just not really working as well.

Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

Director (and writer): Stephen Susco

Cast: Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor Del Rio, Savira Windyani

A teen comes into possession of a new laptop and soon discovers that the previous owner is not only watching him, but will also do anything to get it back. – IMDB

When Unfriended (review) released, it was the beginning of a cyber found footage style. While the first movie some of its issues, the concept itself proved to be a good one. One that would prove to be especially engaging watching since in some ways, the audience was the invisible spectator in the story as this is all going on through a Skype call. It was a little surprising to see that they ended up making a sequel for it but set in another realm, the Dark Web (which was conveniently on my radar because some video games had explored that as well). In many ways, Unfriended: Dark Web actually is better than the first movie. For one, the setting and the tension is a lot better. The execution and how they facilitate the call even if the technology is pretty much the same. Adding to the equation a deaf girlfriend and some relationship issues and the whole message of not taking what isn’t yours, these friends start off with a virtual game night and ends up being dragged into this dark web community of craziness with what starts off as a simple deed to return the laptop turns into a bigger reach when it involves the Dark Web and the members.

Unfriended: Dark Web is really quite an intense ride. There are twists and turns throughout and it uses the found footage concept effectively. Some of the characters and dialogue might have some little issues here and there but overall, the experience is really good. Its a lot more subtle horror and tension build-up than it is about how they all die. Its plot and the way things flow actually matches up to the little surprises with how the dark web members plan out their kills in a very clever way that all clicks together at the end. An impressive sequel and one that honestly is a rare case of the sequel being better than its original.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen this pair of sequels?

What’s Up 2020: Week 40

Every week is going by so fast. I don’t know if its just being really busy with work or trying to focus on getting the Halloween movie marathon going on track this past week or its just trying to make it through day by day and not think about those record high pandemic case increase every day. Either way, Week 40 means 12 weeks until the end of the year. Judging from how quickly the year has gone by, its probably going to zoom by as well. Another film festival is just around the corner and I apparently hate free time so I’m trying to get organized so that things run smoothly with the movie marathon month as well but I’ll talk about that more in the “WATCHING” section. Let’s check out how the week went!

READING

To Reap the Spirit

Currently reading: To Reap the Spirit (The Dead Dreamer Series #3)

Started up the third book of The Dead Dreamer series To Reap the Spirit which has been accompanying me throughout the past year (if not less than that). Its been a fun world to dive into. I’m still very early in the book so I’m not going to say much about it yet but I went into this with high hopes so I’m hoping that it’ll live up to it!

PLAYING

Playing next: Simulacra

I’m not going to lie that gaming as really been in the back of my mind. Just generally running out of time when it comes to trying to start up a new game. Its a bit wild seeing as I haven’t changed my mind on what to play but really just haven’t sat down to do it. Although I do blame it on a few things. My constant replay of Julie and the Phantoms as background to work on stuff and the need to get stuff prepared for the movie marathon. I’ll get back to it but my mind is a little scattered…

WATCHING

  • A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
  • By Night’s End (2020, Review)
  • Day of the Dead (1985)
  • Land of the Dead (2005)

Moving along with the movie marathon mostly this past week while having some picks for Movies and Tea working really well into what I need for this Halloween/Horror month. Aside from that, media accreditation for Festival du Nouveau Cinema came in and as Montreal moved into maximum alert meaning theatres are shut, they have gone completely virtual running from October 7th to 31st with an array of new age cinema that always has something interesting to discover every single year. I have a preliminary list set out to cover but the challenge is to see how on track I can be between festival coverage and the Halloween marathon!

As for highlight this week, it has to go to A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night! An incredibly unique take on a vampire film and another Spectrevision win! It’ll be part of a coming double feature and also happens to be part of production for Season 6 of Movies and Tea so I’m not going to talk too much about it here.

BINGING

  • Julie and the Phantoms (Season 1, 2020)
  • Count Your Lucky Stars (2020)
  • Sing On! Germany (Season 1, 2020)
  • Ratched (Season 1, 2020)

Currently binging: Love Signal 3, Go Newbies, The Journey Across The Night, Intense Love

I just can’t decide for this week which stood out more so I decided to just forget about choosing and highlight all three! I’ve been harping on about Count Your Lucky Stars the past week or two so I finally decided that I had to let it go and watched the last 2 episodes and I still think its a great series. Top 5 of the year from what it looks like. However, I did manage to finally get back into more Netflix series and finished (then finished another 2 times) Julie and the Phantoms. It brought some High School Musical vibes and then I realized that the director of HSM is responsible for Julie and the Phantoms so it all makes sense, right? Finally, I’ve had my eye on Ratched since I’m a big fan of Sarah Paulson and it didn’t disappoint at all. I want to add this one to the Halloween marathon rundown so I’m working on the TV binge sooner rather than later.

That’s it for this week’s What’s Up!
What have you been playing/watching/reading/binging?

Double Feature: The Kissing Booth 2 (2020) & Skyscraper (2018)

Welcome to the next double feature! I have to say that I may have given up on the alphabet format but I don’t think anyone else was really following that anyways…always get stuck at Q. Either way, next pairing are two movies I saw as breathers in between Fantasia screenings. The first is The Kissing Booth 2 (which I’m still wondering why I saw since I didn’t like the first one) and the second is Skyscraper which has Dwayne Johnson which is almost guaranteed a nice mindless entertainment movie night. Not exactly the typical sort of pairing but it is what it is.

Let’s check it out!

The Kissing Booth 2 (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Vince Marcello

Cast: Joey King, Joel Courtney, Jacob Elordi, Taylor Zakhar Perez, Molly Ringwald, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Meganne Young, Stephen Jennings

In the sequel to 2018’s THE KISSING BOOTH, high school senior Elle juggles a long-distance relationship with her dreamy boyfriend Noah, college applications, and a new friendship with a handsome classmate that could change everything. – IMDB

Following the events of The Kissing Booth (review), The Kissing Booth 2 resumes after a summer of Elle and Noah being together and they have to part ways because of Noah having to go to Harvard. Between juggling her emotions for Noah not being there, keeping herself busy, spending time with her best friend (and his girlfriend) and then trying to find money to fund possibly college in Boston without burdening her family and keeping her own secrets, Elle has quite a lot on her plate. Not only from Elle’s angle, The Kissing Booth 2 also focuses a little on Noah and Lee’s side. The Kissing Booth 2 is probably exactly as I’d expected it would go seeing as I still am wondering why I started it in the first place since I didn’t really enjoy the first one and not a huge fan of Elle’s character setup.

The whole world of The Kissing Booth 2 just always seem to have this missing thing that they aren’t hitting. This one tries to cover a lot of ground with different supporting characters and more conflicts. Its about friends and relationships and planning for the future. I just sometimes have this hard time believing that these characters and how they talk are teenagers in high school in this current day and age. Its a predictable sort of story and to be honest, this film was more enjoyable than the first because of one element and that’s the Second Lead Syndrome where I thought the new character and Elle’s new friend and dance partner that has some sparks, Marco portrayed by Taylor Zakhar Perez was fun and one of the better characters of this whole story. There seemed to be some good chemistry between the two of them especially in the dance competition part which was a lot of fun to watch overall. But then I have this deep love for Dance Dance Revolution so the whole Dance Mania competition was a highlight.

The Kissing Booth 2 is really nothing to call home about. I’d love to see Taylor Zakhar Perez in something else although it was announced that The Kissing Booth 3 is happening and was filmed back to back or something and just to finish this thing up, I’ll probably still check it out and cross my fingers that maybe the 2nd lead will get the girl (which probably won’t happen) but then I’m getting ahead of myself at this point. If you liked The Kissing Booth then you might like the sequel, if you didn’t, then maybe you are like me and found some joy with the second male lead and the dance competition.

Skyscraper (2018)

Skyscraper

Director (and writer): Rawson Marshall Thurber

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Moller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, Hannah Quinlivan

A security expert must infiltrate a burning skyscraper, 225 stories above ground, when his family is trapped inside by criminals. – IMDB

Dwayne Johnson is definitely one of those actors that makes some fun and entertaining sort of action movies packed with one liners and just altogether a straightforward good time. The stories sometimes don’t have a ton of depth and are fairly predictable but if you already know what to expect then its almost always a decent little action romp. With that said, Skyscraper fits the bill of exactly what to expect. Set in a rather fictional Hong Kong (to anyone who knows the city well enough) in a fictional tall skyscraper, it might break the reality just a tad on that front as well as how ridiculously over the top a few of the action sequences are. For frequenters of Fast and the Furious franchise who has just been packed with these over the top unrealistic moments that people like to make Youtube videos to debunk how accurate it can be, Skyscraper is a usual deal especially when Dwayne Johnson’s character goes to jump off a crane to another building, there’s some strange physics going on there.

Its really hard to talk about movies likes these. On one hand, for serious moviegoers, its very obvious that there are a ton of flaws whether in shallow plot or some computer effects or even how some events flow and how certain scenes are structured. Its not going to be some award-winning movie. On the other hand, if you go by the standpoint of having exactly what is expected and for the mindless entertainment and some fun Dwayne Johnson moments, this is fairly harmless especially when a lot of his skyscraper moments involve duct tape, a common every day man trick which does keep the movie grounded a little more than expected.

Not to mention, Dwayne Johnson is accompanied by a supporting role by Neve Campbell who plays his wife in the movie. She actually has quite a useful point to make and actually speaks some decent Cantonese line. I always praise actors/actresses who are given these foreign lines and get it right on point. Although, that is definitely more of a personal thing. With that said, there are some good characters here plus I do usually enjoy Chin Han’s roles. Overall, Skyscraper was plain and simple a fun time. I acknowledge all the issues with it but at the same time, it was exactly what I needed when I chose to watch it.


That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen these two films? Thoughts?

Double Feature: The Platform (2019) & The Predator (2018)

As I took a few days off to get my mind back on track and figure out what needs to be written (because I basically forgot after Fantasia Festival), we’re back on the double feature! As we gear into October’s Halloween Horror month, I’m leaving some horror on Shudder for next month so we’re focusing on the rest of the alphabet with only Netflix choices and maybe some shortcuts along the way.

Picking up where we left off, its time for the P selection. The first is a Netflix movie called The Platform and paired with the fourth movie in the Predator franchise called The Predator. Let’s check it out!

The Platform (2019)

Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia

Cast: Ivan Massagué, Zorion Eguileor, Antonia San Juan, Emilio Buale, Alexandra Masangkay, Zihara Llana

A vertical prison with one cell per level. Two people per cell. One only food platform and two minutes per day to feed from up to down. An endless nightmare trapped in The Hole. – IMDB

The Platform is a Netflix Original Spanish sci-fi horror film which works a lot like Snowpiercer where its moving horizontal through a train, this one moves in a vertical structure via a platform that passes from the top levels to the lowest levels. As a man gets trapped there, his conversation with his cellmate becomes one where he starts to notice the patterns and the system and wants to fight for a change to actually survive this ordeal. The backstory and mystery of why these people are there and how do they get out is all a key part to the story. Sure, the platform itself plays a big part as the people shift every while from one level to another so that they can experience the upper and lower levels and the ugly and selfish side of humans in the face of survival.

Netflix automatically started the movie in its dubbed English version for myself which was a decent experience. It would be interesting to watch it again in its original audio. Overall, The Platform is a pretty good film. It builds up on the mystery and the intensity of the situation pretty well and has a decent pacing and execution throughout.

The Predator (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Shane Black

Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Jake Busey

When a young boy accidentally triggers the universe’s most lethal hunters’ return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled scientist can prevent the end of the human race. – IMDB

There are days I wonder why we just keep going back to making more and more of a franchise when it should’ve been left at the first movie. It sometimes feels like Predator is one of those situation, maybe because I’m also not a huge fan of this franchise in comparison to Alien franchise, I guess. Although, credit where its due, Predators (review) was a pretty fun one even though I think some people wasn’t a big fan. Back on track to this one, the story here is far-fetched and it runs rather off track the further it goes. The only thing that worked for it was the ragtag team and the twist of the concept of the predators end-game although the whole “twist” of what they wanted wasn’t exactly a twist but fairly obvious.

I don’t hate on this completely since I thought Olivia Munn’s character was fairly resourceful and there’s some familiar faces with Thomas Jane and Keegan-Michael Key, two people that I rather enjoy in movies. Then there’s the little boy played by Jacob Tremblay who right away is different but intelligent for his age. The characters do work rather well. Its a pity that the story gets a little odd especially when the Predator world starts showing up with alien pups which was supposed to add some humor which it kind of did at times especially with whatever it would fetch back.

Its a fairly flat experience. Its not good but not horrible either. There are some glaring issues with it for sure but then, the director definitely has a special place for this movie as it puts in some references to the original film (or at least a very obvious one).

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen these two films?

TV Binge: Sugar Rush:Extra Sweet (Season 3, 2020) & Sugar High (2020)

Sugar Rush: Extra Sweet (Season 3, 2020)

sugar rush extra sweet

Host: Hunter March
Judges: Candace Nelson & Adriano Zumbo
Guest Judges: Fortune Feimster, Naya Rivera, Justin Willman, Tyler Posey, Garcelle Beauvais, Ron Ben-Israel

A baking competition with 4 teams, 3 rounds, 2 cakes and 1 winner of $10,000. – IMDB

Season 3 of Sugar Rush is pretty much the same as the previous seasons. They run in the general same structure of having 4 teams and 3 rounds which leads to two rounds of elimination and 2 final teams battling it out in the final round and saving up time for their final rounds. Season 3 is titled Extra Sweet. This adds in the new element of ingredients requirement matching with the theme of the episode. For each rounds, there is a different shelf of certain items that have a minimum required of items to incorporate into the dessert to elevate the theme that that round whether its cupcake, confection or cake.

Its nice to see that Sugar Rush is changing up its formula a little. Sugar Rush has a decent concept and it runs at only six episodes a season, which makes it fairly binge-able as long as you are into this type of baking reality competition series. Its a serious and professional baking competition so its good in smaller doses (I usually watch an episode or two and stop). They find some fairly good guest judges. In this case, they had a few judges that was previously on Nailed It!, I believe and then also adds (sadly) the last reality show appearance for Naya Rivera. They all are rather fun and give some decent feedback for the most part about the desserts. The “Extra Sweet” addition to this season does add a little challenge and it usually can see how daring the teams are and their creativity.

Sugar Rush is at its third season. If baking reality competition series are your thing, this one is pretty good. I don’t think its quite as bingeable because its a lot more of a serious baking competition but I do enjoy the interaction of the judges, Candace Nelson and Adriano Zumbo as well as most of the guest judges here. They had some nice fancy baked creations that was quite fun to watch. The time element feels like the tension from the first few seasons has worn itself down where that’s no longer something that feels like its not doable. All the competitors just make it work 100% of the time and things that happen is more technical issues that they run out of time to fix. Its still fairly entertaining to watch overall.

Sugar High (2020)

sugar high 2020

Host: Hunter March
Judges: Jackie Sorkin, Rebecca DeAngelis, Stéphane Tréand

Contestants compete in two rounds of sugar sculpting challenges for a prize of $10,000. – IMDB

Sugar High is a one episode spin-off of Sugar Rush except with a focus on sugar sculptures and sugar confections. With that said, other than the host Hunter March remaining the same, the judges have all changed who are knowledgeable about this area of expertise.

Sugar High is separated into two rounds. The first round is about making confections to fit the criteria set out. Its meant to be a feast for the mouth and the eyes in many ways. The second round is about making these beautiful sculptures that also fit another set of criteria. In this case, it was the height, which is a challenge for desserts as we know from Sugar Rush challenges but with sugar sculptures, its even more fragile.

Its only one episode. I’m not sure whether this is just testing the waters to see how many people will be interested and the feedback or just a one off deal to add some variety to show off sugar work. I honestly think its like watching an art work come to life which is a nice change in pace. Sugar work is something that doesn’t seem to have that much emphasis but from this one episode, it seems like there’s quite a bit to discover and learn. Different way to work with sugar and the challenges that comes with working with something that sensitive to heat and craftsmanship. One episode isn’t enough to say much but I’d be down to at least watch a few more episodes of this.

TV Binge: Unrequited Love (橘生淮南·暗恋, 2019)

Unrequited Love (橘生淮南·暗恋, 2019)

unrequited love2019

Cast: Zhao Shun Ran, Zhu Yan Man Zi, Zhang Yi Chi, Rain Shen, Chen Meng Qin, Zhang Zhe Hao, Yuan Bai Zi Hui, Esther Chen, He Mei Xuan, Huang Shi Chao, Li Jin Zhe

A story revolving around two students, Huai Nan and Luo Zhi, who immediately hit it off when they meet in university, but a message from an ex complicates things. Furthermore, Huai Nan discovers that Luo Zhi has been harboring a secret crush on him since their younger days. Luo Zhi has been caught in a one-sided love with Huai Nan for over ten years as she acts in a monodrama of her own creation. Her feelings towards Huai Nan are complicated, fueled by an honest admiration for his excellence but also tainted with jealousy and hatred. While following Sheng Huai Nan, Luo Zhi is also admitted to the best university. Her one-sided love finally gets a new chapter when the two start getting close to each other, but reality hits hard and they undergo many trials. Will they finally be together? Who took Luo Zhi’s diary? Which one will prevail – love or family? – MyDramaList

Where to Watch: Netflix

STORY

Unrequited love 1

Unrequited Love is a story about secret high school crush by a introvert student who then becomes friends with her crush in university. She has to decide how to approach this to catch his attention through her knowledge of him. Unrequited Love has a solid story that is based on novel of the same name by Bayue Changan. What makes this story standout is that both of these characters have stronger personalities. Its about misunderstanding, persistence and courage to own up to feelings and letting yourself be vulnerable.

The story is rather melodramatic since unrequited love is almost always an upward trek of unfruitful outcomes but this story gives them a chance. At the same time, the story isn’t just about them but also the friendships and family around them and the influences and choices that each of these make that may make them question their approach to love for each other. What I like about it is that its not all about them. In fact, every couple or secret admirer or relationship has their own struggles and show a different type of relationship, one-sided or not and with different basis of what draws them to each other.

LENGTH/PACING

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Episodes: 24
Length of episode: 35 mins (approx.)

Running at 24 episodes with normal episode lengths, Unrequited Love has a good pacing and execution as a whole. The frustration from all the melodrama is rather short in compared to if it was longer and dragged out. Every event moves through quickly from love to loss to misunderstandings to crushes, friends, school and family. Normally, dramas that take a long time to get their main characters together is somewhat of a drag, surprisingly, this one isn’t and a lot of it has to do with how these characters develop over the course of the series (but that’s further discussion in the next section). Series running at the 20+ episodes works the best because the story progresses fairly quickly. Here it starts off playing between the past and present between Luo Zhi’s observations and Huai Nan’s side of things. As the viewers, we get to see where their misunderstandings happen and start to see how as they become friends and care more for each other, their relationship and personality also changes for the better. The story is unique because of the unrequited love element but its done best because of the characters, which takes me to the next part.

CHARACTERS/CHEMISTRY

Luo Zhi & Huai Nan

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As a couple, Luo Zhi and Huai Nan are quite a good pairing. They are both more along the lines of living in their own world and then using their own ways to catch each other’s attention. Essentially their story is about communication, confidence and trust. What cam be frustrating is their lack of communication which leads to them getting into arguments as they always assume or guess.

As individual characters, Luo Zhi is more of a unique female lead. She is more stubborn (its a good thing) about what she wants as we see her find her value. She also has the most development from her high school days of hiding in the backdrop and just looking from afar, her university days starts off that way but ends up giving her switch around where she stands up for herself. One of the best parts is when her high school past that she is trying to keep secret is revealed and used against her and Huai Nan doesn’t believe her or the person that he has grown to know and also insisting for Huai Nan to confirm his feelings for her and not always have him want the confirmation that she likes him. It might seem like a petty difference but its little details that give Luo Zhi her standout points.

Jiang BaiLi/ Ge Bi/ Gu ZhiYe/Chen MoHan

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Baili and Ge Bi are a different type of relationship and unrequited love as right from the start, its very one-sided. Baili does everything for Ge Bi but his heart just isn’t there and in the end, it lingers in the realm of questions whether its a regret or not for him. Much like the previous pairing, the entrance of the other love interest characters is what stimulates and pushes Baili to face those issues and move forward. Her character is one that balances Luo Zhi because she’s a more extrovert and caring character and one that is easy to love. There is a naivety to her personality as well as her directness. Her character finds revelation and ends up changing the outlook for Gu ZhiYe, an older guy who pursues her for ulterior motives but (of course) ends up falling for her which also has issues when all the schemes come to life. Their

Ding ShuiJing & Luo Yang

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Luo Zhi’s high school friend, Ding ShuiJing in some twist of events ends up meeting Luo Zhi’s cousin Luo Yang who is already in a long-term stable relationship but they connect because of their idealistic views and art. ShuiJing’s love is also another version of unrequited as she likes Luo Yang enough to move anywhere to see him but he isn’t ready to give up on his stability and the image to family and responsibility to the current relationship.  Their romance is slightly tedious to watch, just like ShuiJing’s character design which is not bad in comparison to Luo Yang’s but she also plays the part of Luo Zhi’s friend who forcibly believes that she is her best friend when the other doesn’t really admit to it and because of this, ends up creating another issue. This pairing is not the most fun to watch but they also is the sub-sub relationship so in the spectrum of the series, it doesn’t have too much effect.

Friends & Family

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The best elements in Chinese drama is that they have a good focus on outside elements. In this case, Huai Nan’s is mostly with his 5 other roommates. They live in a huge dorm and each one of them, while not all equally a lot of screen time or backstory, altogether are rather entertaining. Of the five, his best friend is MingRui who is the bridge of how Luo Zhi meets Huai Nan but also goes through a lot of unrequited love of his own as timing is his worst enemy. However, much like a lot of other characters by the actor Zhang Yi Chi portraying him, he has somewhat of a comedic relief for the most part. While Luo Zhi’s friendships are a lot simpler with roommate BaiLi, high school friend ShuiJing and university friend Mingrui being her own rocks that she confides in to various levels. BaiLi being the one that has the most story and development.

Family plays a big part between Huai Nan and Luo Zhi’s relationship and that’s meant to be a twist at the end that if you watch Luo Zhi’s few interactions with her mom, its easy to see where its going fairly quickly.

OVERALL

Unrequited Love is something of a forgotten child or maybe more a neglected child in the world of Chinese drama. Its considered something of a failure which I think is rather harsh since it didn’t seem like a whole lot of promotion of given to it in the first place and then this year, we’re expected to get a second adaptation with a more popular set of cast, bumping down any traction from this one and creating a big confusion between this and the upcoming version.

In reality, Unrequited Love does a good job and does have a good cast even if they aren’t as popular, but its rather expected as China produces a lot of TV series and also promotes a lot of new series with new young actors. Its a bit sad that this series didn’t get the amount of exposure it should have considering it did hit Netflix as a Netflix Series and isn’t available on Youtube. Its characters are designed and developed really well and in the scope of 24 episodes, the pacing is great. There are some rather dramatic parts but then, its nothing compared to some of the other series that I’ve seen. Plus, the female characters are done really well and not as typical (in my opinion).

**As an extra thought, I honestly don’t see how a new cast will breathe new life into this story especially knowing who the cast is. It might get more traction because of the male lead’s popularity. But its updated to air in September 2020 on Mango TV so that’s right around the corner so maybe it will surprise me.**

TV Binge: Twogether (Season 1, 2020)

Twogether (Season 1, 2020)

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Cast: Jasper Liu, Seung-gi Lee

Paired together for an unforgettable trip across Asia, stars Lee Seung Gi and Jasper Liu become buddies as they connect with fans and local cultures. – IMDB

For fans of Jasper Liu and Seung-Gi Lee, both stars now having their own Netflix Original series, this pair-up for the travel reality show with a little bit of challenges and games added in is a fairly fun adventure. Essentially, the concept is that these two go to different Asian countries, they land at night and choose which location to go that their fan from that country has recommended. At each location, if they beat their challenge, they get a clue which narrows down the location of where the fan lives. As they move through one location to the next, its a strategy to see where to go to maximize their time since before a certain time if they don’t find their fan, they need to catch the plane to the next location. Most of the fans don’t know that they are going to find them so its a surprise and the other surprise is that, they don’t know whose fan it is.

In the current world of when this is released, we can only find travel on Netflix. Yet again, a show that releases at a good time. To be fair, the travel element is there as a unique backdrop for the reality game show element. There is some education on the different places they visit and the landmarks in those countries from a local. However, the game show element is where the show has the most fun as the show’s structure: challenges, travel allowance budget and language barriers between the two at the beginning, plus any Asian game show viewers knows that the director/crew always has it out for the people involved to make things harder.

To be fair, I’m not a Jasper Liu or Seung-gi Lee fan mostly because I haven’t watched anything of theirs (but Jasper Liu’s Triad Princess is on my to-watch list). Call this Netflix’s big scheme to give their show some extra promotion, which it probably is but it worked for me since I definitely did bump up my priority to watch their works. Its mostly entertaining in a very Korean variety show style with the comments made in post-editing to the scene (at least from my memory since its been more than a decade that I haven’t watched Korean shows). These two get together well and they both are fairly chill people who have a lot of fun with each of their challenges. At the same time, this is a good concept to have and more places should implement it (when this whole pandemic hopefully/eventually ends) to give fans an opportunity to meet their idols. There are some moments that it is rather touching to watch. Especially with the global presence of Netflix, its great to see that shows like this has an outlet to combine these stars from different countries together and in reality, its really cross-promotion but still achieves its entertainment element while promoting some of these beautiful locations in Asia.

TV Binge: Unsolved Mysteries (Season 1, 2020)

Unsolved Mysteries (Season 1, 2020)

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Immersive, character-driven stories are rooted in the experiences of ordinary people who have lived the unthinkable. Families, detectives and journalists hope viewers hold the clues to solving these mysteries. – IMDB

Some revivals are incredibly welcome! Unsolved Mysteries is definitely one of those. Netflix has picked up a true gem with this one. Whether people are watching this because of nostalgia of the original show and looking forward to see what they do now or just finding out about it with this show because its on Netflix, anyone who enjoys this type of cold case will be intrigued by all the six cases presented in Season 1.

There’s a good variety in its case selections. There is an international case, a more familiar mystery like UFO and then a few different intriguing cases of missing people whether its the situation or the suspect. The setup of each one goes into detail from the witnesses to the family and friends involved. Each case is pieced together in the form of a timeline after a general introduction of the case at hand which feels thorough investigation and research has been done. There’s a lot of re-evaluation from the current information, knowledge, deduction at the time. Whether its missing pieces of the puzzle to figure out what actually happened  to missing key pieces of evidence that could lead to the suspected killers, each unsolved mystery has its own element of suspense. Its one thing to watch thrillers, suspense and mystery in a movie but Unsolved Mysteries brings up the fact of all these real life mysteries that hasn’t been solved which is a rather chilling feeling.

I don’t want to put any spoilers here so I’m going to avoid going into too much detail. While all the cases have incredible discussion value and for some, its initiated its reopening of cases and a lot of tips sent in online as well as forums where people are sharing their theories and investigations online which is a great way of motivating the general public to join into this. Its a very Zodiac sort of deal where sometimes the people outside of the case might have their own views and understandings. Whether the cases eventually get cracked or not, its definitely brought a few of these into a different light. When talking about specific cases, the one that was interesting to watch but not exactly a lot of further discussion value (for myself) would be the Berkshires UFO episode. The one that definitely got me the most was the first one, Mystery on the Rooftop for its cryptic evidence and the sheer amount of unanswered questions. The international case, The House of Terror has its value and shows the power of Netflix, diving into the international content and expanding its areas of investigation. Other than these ones, its seriously a lot of mind-boggling cases that stirs up a lot of deeper thinking of its possibilities that make Unsolved Mysteries so intriguing.

There’s so much to love about the revival of Unsolved Mysteries. Its executed well and Netflix has the international streaming platform and reach that can expand the possibilities and variety of cold case to investigate. I’m definitely looking forward to another season.